Indications of Trust

Trust is an important part of any partnership, whether between two people or between an animal and a human. There has been much talk about the revival of natural horsemanship. Honestly, it's not a revival; it's a concept new to many people today who didn't grow up with horses. When we were kids, we enjoyed the same things our horses did (for the most part). We liked running over fields and jumping the creek and swimming in the pond. Fun stuff. The fewer restrictions--including tack--the better. It's important we get back to our roots and learn how to listen to what our horses are telling us, rather than us "whispering" things our horses can't understand.

We've all had that one horse with which we felt comfortable doing anything. He tolerates injections and us picking at scabs, and he patiently suffers through the boredom of bathing and braiding. He's carried us over things that scared us (okay, go jump that tiger-trap-whatever-that-thing-is, and take me with you!).

Why don't more horses just say no? It's because of the partnership we form with them. Sometimes it's stronger with certain horses, just like some of our partnerships with people are stronger than others. The reason, I think, is the same--trust.

One of the reasons that I'm thinking about this right now is because of police horses. My work with police horses has been mentioned in these pages before, whether with the Lexington, Ky., mounted unit or the 501(c)(3) National Police Horse Academy (NPHA). It also was mentioned that a curriculum for raising a weanling to his 2-year-old year was being developed by Applied Animal Behaviorist Sue McDonnell, PhD, of the University of Pennsylvania's New Bolton Center, and Parelli Natural Horse-Man-Ship. The first draft is nearly completed, and it's ready to be tested.

By the time you read this, two Percheron/Thoroughbred colts will have arrived at my small, bare-bones farm in Kentucky. We're going to test the NPHA curriculum and keep a running diary on TheHorse.com of what's going on. For anyone who has worked with young horses, you know this will be fun on the days it's not exasperating.

We're also enlisting the help of other experts, including my regular veterinarian Carol McLeod, DVM, MS, and nutritionist Joe Pagan, owner of Kentucky Equine Research. You'll get to read the advice given by these and other professionals on the daily care and management of these babies, and you'll get to follow their progress as they are desensitized using the NPHA curriculum.

General curriculum concepts are designed to prepare young horses of good temperament to have superior compliance, acclimation, and early preparation specifically for police service, but equally suitable for other equestrian service. The curriculum is designed for college equine programs using student handlers of varied horse experience with guidance from faculty, professional staff, and consultants. The curriculum is based on academically sound (research based) standard behavior modification techniques as a progressive curriculum of training, beginning with lightly handled 4-month-old half-bred weanlings and ending with 2-year-olds which are "bombproof" on the ground and started under saddle, if ready.

Specific objectives include creating a generally user-friendly domestic horse, willing and compliant with all aspects of good husbandry, stabling, transport, and care. The horse should be free of any unsafe behaviors (barging, bolting, striking, kicking, and biting). He should be fully experienced and acclimated to specific environments and situations related to police work, and he should be bold and accepting of novel and/or aversive stimuli and situations, even those considered challenging for trained horses.

These horses should be able to work alone with one rider or handler, and work with a team involving other horses and handlers and/or colleagues with bicycles, motorcycles, emergency vehicles, or police dogs.

There's more, but, as you well know, trust starts one step at a time. Stay tuned!

About the Author

Kimberly S. Brown

Kimberly S. Brown was the Publisher/Editor of The Horse: Your Guide To Equine Health Care from June 2008 to March 2010, and she served in various positions at Blood-Horse Publications since 1980.

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